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car review

Porsche isn’t known for making beautiful cars. That’s not their thing; leave it to the Italians. Porsche’s appeal is that it makes drivers’ cars: cars that lap the Nurburgring faster than anything else, cars for owners who care about “feel.” Esoteric machines, but Porsche is among the most profitable car makers in the world so you can’t fault the strategy. The products all have a clean, unified aesthetic. It makes for a strong brand. Porsche can happily get away with cars such as that original, backwards-looking Boxster, or the awkward first Cayenne because they were good cars. The 911 is one of the few true automotive icons and it still wouldn’t win a beauty pageant.

Even among this crowd, the Panamera, Porsche’s first sedan, stood out as the ugly duckling when it was first introduced in 2009. It was polarizing, to put it politely. It was either the coolest thing on the road, or the lumpiest, frumpiest goat – depending on who you ask, or the light. A two-face.

“But now we changed it, and I think it’s better,” says Peter Varga, the director of exterior design at Porsche. He worked on the old Panamera: “I was a very young guy, part of the design team. I did the bumper for the Turbo.” Now he’s in charge. He’s overseen the styling of the all-new 2017 Panamera from the beginning, from a blank sheet of paper, over the past three and a half years.

Photos provided by Porsche

“We started with the proportions,” he said. “We took the current [old] design, and we gave the model more wheelbase. Then we worked first on the roofline.” The wheels are farther apart, and the roofline is lower, dropping steeply towards the rear of the car. The bulbous back end of the old car was its defining feature. It sounds as if it was one of the first things to go.

Today, Varga seems relaxed. For him the 2017 Panamera is old news. The design was warmly received when it was unveiled in Berlin earlier this year. He and his team will already be hard at work on the Mission-E electric car and other Porsches we won’t see until nearly the end of the decade.

The best design work on the new Panamera, however, is in the cabin. There are mountains of gadgetry, but it’s cleanly integrated. There’s a new digital dash surrounding an analog tachometer. A 12.3-inch touchscreen blends into a horizontal strip of wood trim. The centre console, which sits high between the front seats, looks like a slab of black glass. On it, analog buttons have been replaced by touch-sensitive ones. If Charles and Ray Eames had made a spaceship, its cockpit would’ve looked like this.

For now, the Panamera comes in two version: the 4S and Turbo. We only drove the former, with its 440-horsepower twin-turbo V-6 and all-wheel drive.

It starts running out of steam at around 220 km/h on the Autobahn – it still accelerates, just at a slower rate. Up to 150 the numbers on the digital speedometer change so quickly they’re mostly a blur. At these speed it’s best to have your eyes on the horizon anyway. The 4S does 0-160 km/h in 10 seconds flat. No: there’s no good reason to spend an extra $50,000 (yikes) for the 550-horsepower Turbo. The 4S will do just fine.

Porsche spokespeople confirmed two high-performance hybrids will join the Panamera lineup soon (but not soon enough!) and a wagon – based on the lovely Sport Wagon concept from 2012 – will be available as well.

It usually takes Porsche a few tries to nail a design. Now, in its third generation, the Boxster is finally a handsome little roadster. The second-gen Cayenne is decent looking, and the smaller Macan SUV is great. Porsche is still working to perfect the 911 even after 53 years. And so it goes with the Panamera: Take two strips away its ugly duckling status to reveal a respectable and supremely refined sport sedan.

You’ll like this car if ... Clean design, inside and out, appeals.


Base Price: $114,300 (4S); $167,700 (Turbo)

Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbo V-6 (4S)

Transmissions: 8-speed dual-clutch

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.2 city, 6.8 highway (EURO 6 test)

Drive: All-wheel

Alternatives: Mercedes S-Class, Audi S8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJR, Aston Martin Rapide, Maserati Quattroporte


Looks: It’s an improvement over its polarizing predecessor, and yet the new Panamera retains a unique character that makes it unmistakably Porsche. The forthcoming Panamera wagon has the potential to be downright beautiful if Porsche can translate the Sport Wagon concept car into production.

Interior: An instant class-leader here. Sleek and refined, you’re struck by a wondrous sense of discovery as you settle in and play with all the controls. It’s just cool.

Performance: It’s ballistic, obviously. But we’ve seen this before: the new model is faster, and more fuel efficient than its predecessor. It feels as if Porsche missed an opportunity to do something truly forward-thinking, something radical. Where’s the 600 horsepower plug-in hybrid? Hopefully it’s coming. The only let-down in terms of performance are the standard brakes: they don’t have that solid, brick-wall feel you want in a two-tonne sedan with 440 horsepower.

Technology: The new-generation PCM infotainment system is excellent, in terms of function and design. It could react a tad snappier, but it’s impressive. Touchscreen-controlled air vents are surely a world first. The big problem is all the really good stuff, the features that make the Panamera feel truly special to drive, are optional extras: all-wheel steering, carbon-ceramic brakes and adjustable air-suspension. (Only the latter is standard on the Turbo.)

Cargo: The roofline is lower over the rear passengers thanks to the swooping roofline, but Porsche claims cabin space remains the same as before.



No longer ugly, great cabin, deeply impressive handling once you tick all the options.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.